The State of Design

A renewed Copernican turn is needed everywhere, including in the philosophy of design. There it begins with the unsettling implications of our century’s circumstances, technologies, and deadlines. In practice, it shifts the balance from experiences to outcomes, from users to systems, from aesthetics to access, from intuition to abstraction, from expedience to ideals. The direct implications for design are fundamental, but habits are hard to change. From the Vitruvian Man to Facebook profiles, centuries of “human-centered design” (HCD) have brought more usable tools, but in many important domains design is far too psychologizing, individuating, and anthropocentric without being nearly humane enough. When raised to a universal principle, HCD also brought landfills of consumer goods, social media sophistry, and an inability to articulate futures beyond narrow clichés. In the name of amplifying the individual’s fertile desires, we’ve made a desert. Maximizing usability came at the expense of a deeper reason. The Copernican shift in the philosophy of design includes a rotation away from human-centered design and toward a fuller understanding of designing the human and the world. I don’t mean this in some transhumanist sort of way, but rather that the design of physical media is more than composing augmentations of a given subject, agent, and form. In Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley’s concise archaeology of design’s history, the practice is always ultimately about designing the human itself through designing its various exoskeletons, afterimages and anaesthetics.

Benjamin H. Bratton, “The Terraforming”